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Aspects of the Narrative Construction in “Gladiator” Movie

Introduction

Addressing the topic of historical events is a common technique used by screenwriters and directors in films. The romanticization of wars, interpersonal conflicts, or psychological disagreements between protagonists and antagonists is often revealed in the context of historical films. At the same time, in high-quality movies with a sufficient budget, attention to details is paid, which, in turn, makes it possible to make a film a box office and create a stir among the public. Gladiator directed by Ridley Scott (2000) may be called one of these movies, which have entered the piggy bank of the world cinema forever. This film was one of the first to change the traditional perception of the public about the possibilities and powers of cinema and combine many elements of a successful story.

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The movie in question has become one of the most well-known around the turn of the century and won numerous awards. Dozens of nominations and five Oscars prove Gladiator’s recognition by both viewers and critics (2000). At the same time, to convey the power of the director and the creativity of the filmmaking team, the analysis of a single passage can be performed. In particular, the narrative construction of the last scene of the film will be considered, in which the main character, the eminent General Maximus, dies in the arena, and his friend Juba says goodbye to him (Gladiator, 2000). In this scene, the filmmakers managed to implement many plot decisions and influence the audience by creating much tension that was removed by the very end. The overall context, including both the historical and cultural aspects of the development of Maximus’ story, helped Ridley Scott evoke a wide range of emotions in the audience. The themes of strength, honor, valor, love, and freedom, complemented by rich musical accompaniment and majestic decorations, allowed Gladiator to finish on a solemnly sad note and thrill the audience with a strong ending.

Cultural and Historical Contexts of the Narration

The final scene of Gladiator combines a number of traditional directorial decisions, which, nevertheless, are shown originally due to the film’s unique historical and cultural context. As Carmona (2017) notes, one of the common practices of any filmmaker is to convey the specifics of a particular environment in a language that the public can understand. In Gladiator, despite the antiquity of the events taking place, each viewer can find what attracts one most, but in the final scene, the classic canons of cinema creation are overtly revealed. When analyzing this extract from the standpoint of history, the death of Maximus is a sad but logical conclusion to the story. According to Jacobsson (2017), the aesthetic experience of any film is shaped through recognition, and Ridley Scott implemented a simple yet powerful strategy for influencing the public’s feelings. The historical context of the movie was one of the catalysts that allowed it to be made as believable and natural as possible.

The confrontation between Maximus and Commodus, which preceded the film’s final scene, is a common directorial solution that is intended to create climactic tension. However, the death of the protagonist is an infrequent technique to which the creators of mass-release films resort. At the same time, Carmona (2017) remarks that in feature films, specific environments are overwhelmingly subjective and depend on creators’ views. For Maximus, who fought for justice and strove to defend his honor and name at all costs, the death in the arena is not shameful. Moreover, one should take into account the cultural mores of Ancient Rome of the era in which the main events of the movie unfold. In the final scene, cruelty and brutality gave way to human weakness and the triumph of justice. When Juba buries the figures of Maximus’ wife and son in the battle arena, the director gives the public a clear hint that the protagonist is reuniting with his family in another life (Gladiator, 2000). As a result, even despite the pathos of the situation, the main character completes the path lyrically, which puts the soul above pride and glory.

One of the main features of the final scene of Gladiator, which can also be called its strength, is the director’s understandable cultural message. According to Jacobsson (2017), cross-cultural differences can influence the public’s perception of a film’s narrative. However, in the scene in question, the context is clear and cannot be interpreted dually. The death of Maximus is a natural conclusion, and his meeting with loved ones in the afterlife corresponds to most of the religious ideas promoted in the world. When Juba buries the figurines of his wife and son, he unites the souls of his deceased friend and his family. This approach is a convenient and, at the same time, an original solution to demonstrate the connection between the friends and the understanding of Maximus’ main desire to which the renowned gladiator strove during his imprisonment.

Despite the personality of the style that Ridley Scott showed in one of his major works, one can note the director’s respect for details and the historical and cultural context of the movie. As Carmona (2017, p. 12) states, “the role of film narration varies in accordance to the filmmaker’s narrative intentions”. One can conclude that the director of Gladiator sought not only to romanticize the film’s ending but to compare the details of that time with modern values in a way that might be understood by the majority of the audience. As a result, the context of the final scene can be characterized as logically complete due to the matching of historical justice and cultural characteristics of the life of the presented era with contemporary views.

Technological Features of the Narration

From a technological perspective, Gladiator’s final scene leaves no doubt about the quality of the shooting. The director combines two worlds: the real one and the afterlife by utilizing not only visual effects but also musical accompaniment as an essential component of influencing the audience. Kassab (2018) draws attention to this technique and notes that in epic films, which Gladiator is, emphasizing the importance of individual scenes is often realized through soundtracks. Scott’s approach is traditional: using harsh and solemn music for battle scenes, at the very end, he utilizes a sad and meditating melody written by the outstanding composer Hans Zimmer, the author of many soundtracks for great movies. As a result, the viewer is imbued with the lyrics of the moment and plunges into an atmosphere of sadness, which is the ultimate goal of the final scene.

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The shooting method used in the final scene of Gladiator carries the director’s overtones. Remaining as the winner, Maximus faces the Roman people, including the nobility and common plebeians (Gladiator, 2000). The shooting is carried out from two angles: from the back of the character to show the people in front of him and opposite him to distinguish the gladiator from the crowd and show his strength and, at the same time, loneliness and helplessness before death. Hobden and Potter (2020) note that the deliberate display of masculine strength epitomizes the courage of gladiators. In relation to the final scene of the film in question, Maximus falling and unable to overcome the impending death appears from the top plane, which is done not to miss the slightest detail of the last moments of the gladiator’s life. According to Kassab (2018), the unique ways of portraying masculinity in cinema are designed to present characters as resilient, and the shooting in the movie’s final scene may be interpreted as an attempt to preserve Maximus’ image of inviolability. Therefore, the death of the hero is shown openly but without unnecessary pathos or tragedy.

The aforementioned editing technique applied in the final scene is one of Scott’s most successful solutions from the standpoint of conveying Maximus’ grief and, at the same time, answering one of the main questions of the audience: will he see his loved ones again? This concept of clarity is typical for many films of mass distribution so as not to leave viewers with a feeling of misunderstanding. The ending of Gladiator is unambiguous, although, at first glance, it may seem that Maximus is not dead, and his meeting with his family is real. Juba burying the figurines removes all questions by promising his deceased friend that he will still meet with him but later. Thus, from a technological perspective, the maximum has been done to exclude the potential ambiguity of the final scene.

Combining two parallel worlds in the final scene by utilizing a regular video sequence with variable frames does not simplify the scene but, conversely, makes it more complex and mysterious. Already on the verge of death, Maximus is ready to leave for another world because he understands that he will meet with his family. Visually, Scott realizes this idea brilliantly: the field that is mentioned at the beginning of the film becomes a meeting place for the gladiator and his loved ones. This is noteworthy that the arena of a coliseum where battles among warriors take place becomes the place to which the Maximus’ family is involved when Juba buries their figurines. Therefore, from a technological perspective, the narration of Gladiator’s final scene includes the interweaving of several important plot ideas. This, in turn, forms a sense of the logical conclusion of the brave warrior’s story.

Narrative Methodology of the Movie

The narrative voice of the final scene of Gladiator is rich and allows a wide range of feelings to awaken in the audience. Ridley Scott uses the technique of tragedy augmented by otherworldly reality. At the same time, physical and emotional tortures that, as Steenberg (2020) notes, are typical for the depiction of the images of gladiators in modern cinema, fade into the background. The tragedy of the situation caused by the death of the main character is one of the techniques that does not alienate the audience from what is happening but, conversely, helps the audience to be involved in the situation that shows not a warrior but a person on the verge of death. The lyric voice as an element of the narrative creates a specific mood, and a viewer experiences anxiety and grief involuntarily by delving into the story proposed by the director. This ability to get the audience to empathize and believe in what is happening is a valuable skill that is embodied in the final scene of the movie in question.

The narrative structure of Gladiator’s final scene is not unique and based on rather a cultural dimension for logical inference than technically sophisticated approaches. According to Steenberg (2020, p. 9), “the duality of the gods and the creation myths of Rome are embedded in the narrative structures of many gladiator films”. Ridley Scott’s movie is no exception since the religious theme is woven into the ending and is an essential attribute of the logical conclusion of Maximus’ story. The warrior who fell in battle with honor meets his loved ones in the afterlife. For Maximus, this is the road on which he meets his wife and child. The symbolism of this scene lies in the fact that the valiant general, being in constant anxiety and unrest, finally finds the long-awaited freedom. He does not meet with God or any other higher power, but the images that arise in front of him resemble his paradise. Therefore, from a cultural perspective, the structure of this scene is consistent with the Romans’ ideas about the afterlife and reflects the ultimate goal of any believer.

From the perspectives of plot conventions and construction of a compositional form, the final scene of Gladiator may be described as an individual part of the film with its separate stages. Despite the fact that it takes a few minutes in the ending, the scene can be schematically divided into basic elements: exposure, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. Steenberg (2020) mentions a common feature of epic movies when the culminating point of tension is the final battle scene, usually between the protagonist and the antagonist. In the final scene of Gladiator, one can observe a similar situation by the principle of construction. A rising action that includes the battle between Maximus and Commodus flows into a climax when the victor stands in front of the crowd, then a falling action when the gladiator is on the verge of death, and finally into denouement when Juba buries the figurines of Maximus’ wife and son in the arena. This compositional structure is a successful narrative solution that entertains viewers to the very end and keeps the audience interested in what is happening on the screen.

Due to the narrative techniques employed in Gladiator and, in particular, its final scene, Ridley Scott brings the public a film that can satisfy the interest of most viewers. At the very ending, the director combines elements of love, loss, honor, and even religion. This approach can be regarded as an attempt to draw attention to the movie at all costs and please as many viewers as possible by applying the classical principles of influencing the psychology of the audience. Nevertheless, such benefits as authentic acting, colorful scenery, and the tension that persisted throughout the film helped make the final scene one of the strongest in terms of its impact on the public, and the merit of the entire crew is evident.

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Target Audience Analysis

When considering the impact of the final scene of Gladiator on the audience, one can pay attention not only to specific characteristics of the public, such as age, gender, and other demographic factors but also to some aspects of this influence. In particular, Tan (2018) cites the concept of enjoyment as one of the criteria for describing the acceptance of movies by viewers. The ability to evoke aesthetic emotions in the audience is a valuable property of any film, and at the end of Gladiator, an ordinary viewer experiences a wide range of feelings, which proves the director’s realization of the ultimate goal. Tan (2018) also mentions attentional synchrony, which is one of the factors confirming public interest. This phenomenon occurs when the eyes of the audience are riveted to one place on the screen and synchronized depending on the change of frames and angles. With regard to the final scene of the movie in question, all objects are arranged in such a way that the audience’s attention is focused on specific characters and objects, which, in turn, emphasizes the attractiveness of the scene to the public.

In general, Gladiator’s audience can vary, including both adult and younger viewers. More importantly, the final scene is unlikely to leave any of them indifferent since the death of the protagonist at the most heroic moment of the film is intended to awaken different emotions and grab attention. As Tan (2018) notes, having the audience at the center of a story is a testament to a successful directorial approach. The historical context of Gladiator is not a repulsive factor because the main emphasis is not on displaying events plausibly but on creating the illusion of the reality of what is happening. Given that the death in the final scene is captured, viewing it is undesirable for children. Therefore, people of older age, including adolescents, are the target audience.

The release of the film in mass distribution allowed attracting numerous viewers’ attention. Worldwide, the box office grossed $465,364,545, a huge success for the movie over 20 years ago (Gladiator, 2000). Despite the film’s long timing, the audience could not remain indifferent, and the final scene that became one of the most vivid was essential to watch to find out the denouement. As a result, one can hardly name the exact characteristics of Gladiator’s target audience because the dynamics of the plot and the logical ending combining distinctive elements of influence helped Ridley Scott to create not only an interesting but also important movie for cinematograph.

Conclusion

The combination of various elements of impact on the audience, in particular, the tragedy of the situation, the protagonist’s charism, and the sound and visual accompaniment, allowed Ridley Scott to provide a strong effect of the final Gladiator scene and end the movie on a logical note. The intertwining of cultural and historical dimensions is a successful solution, and the addition of the main story with the line of the afterlife makes the ending of the film mysterious and sad. Technologically, the director’s idea is realized perfectly, and the narrative methods and approaches are apt to keep the tension going until the last minute of the movie. Gladiator’s target audience can be varied, and the ability to keep viewers’ interest indicates that the film has become a valuable contribution to the art of cinema, and its final scene is one of the most famous in the world cinematograph.

References

Carmona, C.R. (2017) ‘The role and purpose of film narration’, Journal of Science and Technology of the Arts, 9(2), pp. 7-16.

Gladiator (2000) Directed by Ridley Scott. Universal City, Calif: DreamWorks Pictures.

Hobden, F. and Potter, A. (2020) ‘Redirecting the gaze: the woman and the gladiator on television in the twenty-first century’, New Voices in Classical Reception Studies, 2, pp. 29-54.

Jacobsson, A. (2017) ‘Intercultural film: fiction film as audio-visual documents of interculturality’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 38(1), pp. 54-69.

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Kassab, M. (2018) Epic film and the sensory recreation of history: Gladiator (2000) & The Robe (1953). MPhil thesis. Queensland University of Technology.

Steenberg, L. (2020) Are you not entertained?: Mapping the gladiator across visual media. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Tan, E. S. (2018) ‘A psychology of the film’, Palgrave Communications, 4(1), pp. 1-20.

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